Word of the Day

Monday, April 29, 2019

clown car

[ kloun kahr ]

noun

a group whose size seems absurdly excessive for the purported function of the group, and whose effectiveness is therefore questionable: The planning committee has added yet another member to its clown car, almost guaranteeing further delays.

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What is the origin of clown car?

The term clown car in its original sense “a very small car used in a circus comedy act, in which the normal passenger capacity is greatly exceeded by the numerous clowns who climb out from inside,” dates from the early 1950s. The disparaging, usually political sense “a group whose size seems excessive for the function of the group, and whose effectiveness is therefore questionable,” dates from about 2013.

how is clown car used?

But I’m old enough to remember 2015, when there were so many Republicans vying for the nod of their party, the early intraparty debates needed to be divided into two to ensure everyone got airtime …. The clown car, people named it.

Helaine Olen, "The Democratic primary will be crowded in 2020. Good!" Washington Post, November 13, 2018

… as the clown-car of guest stars that Swift brought out in each city verged on the absurd … it started to feel like Taylor Swift was not interested in a collective, collaborative vision of feminism so much as one that proved the dominance of her own brand.

Lindsay Zoladz, "2015: The year that #squad died." Slate, December 18, 2015
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Sunday, April 28, 2019

brainchild

[ breyn-chahyld ]

noun

a product of one's creative work or thought.

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What is the origin of brainchild?

The noun brainchild is so common that we forget what a startling metaphor it is: one of the earliest citations for it reads, “All my braines Children fraile and mortall be.” Brainchild entered English in the 17th century.

how is brainchild used?

Coney Island’s white-towered Freudian fairway had been the brainchild of a real-estate entrepreneur named William H. Reynolds … .

Claudia Roth Pierpont, "The Silver Spire," The New Yorker, November 18, 2002

Google Art Project, the brainchild of a small group of art-happy Google employees, brings the Street View technology of Google Earth and Google Maps inside 17 museums around the world.

Eliza Murphy, "The Google Art Project Makes Masterpieces Accessible to All," The Atlantic, February 2, 2011
Saturday, April 27, 2019

groupthink

[ groop-thingk ]

noun

the lack of individual creativity, or of a sense of personal responsibility, that is sometimes characteristic of group interaction.

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What is the origin of groupthink?

Groupthink is a disparaging term modeled on doublethink “the mental ability to believe simultaneously two contradictory things,” appearing in 1984, by George Orwell (1903–50). Groupthink entered English in the early 1950s.

how is groupthink used?

Lately, as scientists try, and fail, to reproduce results, all of science is taking a hard look at funding biases, statistical shenanigans and groupthink.

Tamar Haspel, "Here's what the government's dietary guidelines should really say," Washington Post, March 26, 2019

You don’t need to do many focus groups to see groupthink in action.

Joseph Stromberg, "Focus groups shape what we buy. But how much do they really say about us?" Vox, January 22, 2019

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